Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

According to the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, the celebrant of the Mass communicates first, under the following form of words: “The blessed and most holy Body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is communicated to me, N., priest, for the remission of my sins and life everlasting.” When receiving the chalice he says: “I, N., priest, partake of the pure and holy Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of my sins and life everlasting.” When communicating the deacon the priest says: “N., the holy deacon, is made partaker of the precious, holy, and spotless Body of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of his sins and life everlasting.” In giving the Precious Blood to the deacon the form is the same as when the priest receives. According to the Coptic Rite, the priest first kisses the sacred Host before he receives it, and then communicates the rest (Renaudot, p. 261). The form, according to the Nestorian Rite, for communicating a priest is, “The Body of our Lord to the chaste priest for the forgiveness of sins.” The form of giving the chalice is the same.

Communion of the People in the Eastern Church.—As we have said already, it is customary all through the East, with Catholics and schismatics alike, to administer Holy Communion under both species. There are three particular ways of performing this ceremony: According to the first, the sacred Host is given by itself, then the communicant drinks from the chalice; according to the second, the sacred Host is given by the priest to each communicant, and the chalice is administered by the deacon through the aid of a small spoon, which he dips into it and afterwards puts into the mouth of the receiver; and according to the third way, which is the most common, the Holy Bread is broken into many minute particles, and, having been steeped in the wine, is afterwards given to the communicant in a spoon. In this last case there is no separate receiving of the Precious Blood. The first way here spoken of is peculiar to the ministers of the altar; also to the patriarch, if he should be present. The minor clergy receive in the second way, and the laity in the third. In some of the Syro-Jacobite churches the priest goes down to the laity with the paten and the deacon with the chalice, upon which occasion the priest dips the Particles in the Precious Blood and distributes them to the people. In many places in the East a lighted taper is borne by some of the assistant ministers at this time.

With the Nestorians the method of communicating the laity is rather peculiar. The priest first comes out with the Holy Bread in a napkin fastened around his neck, and the deacon carries the Precious Blood in a large bowl with a cloth under it, intended as a purificator. Each communicant in succession stands up before the priest and holds his hand under his chin to receive any loose particles that may fall from the sacred Host. After he has partaken of the latter he goes to the deacon and sips a little from the bowl, then wipes his mouth on the napkin carried for this purpose. He then returns to his place, keeping his hand up to his mouth for some time (Smith and Dwight, Researches in Armenia, ii. p. 262). The formula of distribution among the laity, according to the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, is: “N., the servant of God, is made partaker of the pure and holy Body and Blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, for the remission of his sins and life everlasting.” The rubric on this head directs the receiver to draw near with reverence and hold his arms crossed upon his breast. It is not customary in any part of the East to kneel while receiving; all stand up, but bow the head a little as the Blessed Sacrament approaches.

The directions given in the Coptic rituals about the administration of Holy Communion to the laity are exceedingly praiseworthy. Nothing can exceed the singular reverence that the Copts show our Lord upon these occasions. According to their rubrics, the priest and deacon descend from the altar, the one with the Holy Bread, the other with the chalice, and advance to where the communicants are, all of whom the priest blesses with the paten when he arrives there. An assistant deacon bears a lighted candle before the sacred Host. The moment each person is communicated he retires to his place, moving so as not to turn his back on the Blessed Sacrament, as Judas is said to have done, according to the tradition of the Copts. When the Communion of the male portion of the congregation has been administered in this way, that of the females begins. Exceeding great care is required to be taken in the latter case, for, as all the females of the East are veiled in church and out of it, it is often impossible to discern who the person is that you have to deal with, and, according to the Coptic canons, the Blessed Eucharist must not be given to any unknown person (Renaudot, i. p. 205). When all the females are communicated the sacred ministers return to the altar.

Form used in Communicating.—The form of Communion in use with the Copts is: “The Body and Blood of Emanuel our God is really here”; and he who receives says, “Amen.” It is worthy of remark that the Copts always communicate the laity by dipping the Host in the chalice, and not by administering both separately. He who receives Holy Communion must shut his mouth and be very careful not to rub the Precious Particle with his teeth; he must have his head uncovered, his hands disposed in the form of a cross; must be humble in his bearing, with eyes cast down, and profound recollection depicted on his countenance.

The Abyssinians, too, are very strict in their discipline regarding Holy Communion. With them it is customary for all who are going to receive to wash their hands first, and afterwards approach with great humility and recollection. Just before distributing the sacred Particles the priest stands in front of the communicants, and, holding the Host in his hand, says aloud: “Behold the Bread of the Saints! Let him who is free from sin approach; but let him who is stained with sin retire, lest God strike him with his lightning; as for me, I wash my hands of his sin.” Out of respect for the Holy Eucharist, the communicants are cautioned against expectorating during the entire day.

Communion under one Kind in the East.—Outside of Mass the Orientals rarely administer Holy Communion under any other form than that of bread. There is hardly any exception to this rule throughout the entire East when the Communion is intended for the sick. The discipline of the Greeks in this respect is very singular. They do not celebrate regular Mass on any of the days of Lent, except Saturdays, Sundays, and the Feast of the Annunciation. In order, then, that a sufficiency of consecrated Particles may be always on hand for the sake of the sick, they consecrate on these occasions a large quantity of bread, which they steep in the chalice before the Precious Blood is consumed. They then take this sacred bread out, and, having placed it on a large paten, apply heat to the latter until it becomes warm enough to cause all the moisture of the Host to evaporate. By this means the Holy Bread becomes almost as hard as flint, and is rendered proof against all danger of corruption, so that it may be put away with safety for an entire year, if necessary. When communicating the sick afterwards with this, ordinary wine is sprinkled over it in order to soften it (Goar, Euchol. Græc., p. 208).

Throughout the entire East the general term for a consecrated Particle is Margarita—that is, a pearl. The Syrians call it Margonita, but both words are the same. The term Carbo, a coal, is frequently applied to the large Host on account of its vivifying nature.

We shall now return to the end of the Communion according to the Latin Rite.

After the priest has adjusted the chalice he goes to the Epistle side, and there reads from the missal the prayer called the “Communio,” which is a short antiphon bearing upon the feast of the day, and generally taken from the Psalter. In former times this prayer was denominated “Antiphona ad Communionem,” and it was customary to sing it, together with some portions of a psalm, or, if necessary, the entire psalm, while the priest was communicating the people. Having read the “Communio,” the priest goes to the centre of the altar, kisses it, and, having turned round to the people, says: “Dominus vobiscum.” He goes to the missal again, and reads from it, in an audible tone, as many prayers called “Post-Communions “as he read collects at the beginning of Mass. In many ancient missals the “Post-Communion” is inscribed “Oratio ad complendum,” or the concluding prayer, because the moment it was said the people were dismissed from church. During the Lenten season it was customary to add a prayer for the sake of those who could not, for legitimate reasons, approach Holy Communion with the rest. This used to be called the “Oratio super Populum,” and in the Sacramentaries of Pope Gelasius and Pope Gregory the Great we find it prescribed for every occasion on which any of the people did not communicate. Now the “Oratio super Populum” is confined solely to Lent, and is always the same as the prayer said at Vespers, for the reason that, according to the ancient discipline, Vespers and Mass formed one joint act during this season—a vestige of which we have to-day in the service of Holy Saturday—and the last prayer of the one was made to serve for the other also. It must be borne in mind that up to the twelfth century it was the rule during Lent to defer the celebration of Mass until the ninth hour of the day—that is, until three o’clock in the afternoon, the time at which regular Vespers began. Up to this hour all were obliged to remain fasting. When the discipline of the Church was changed in this respect the afternoon meal was appointed for midday, and Mass was changed to the forenoon. The “Oratio super Populum,” however, was left as it stood, and this is why itself and the prayer at Vespers are the same to-day. This prayer is never said on Sunday, because that day was never kept as a fasting day.

After the last prayer the priest closes the book, and, having turned round at the middle of the altar to the people, salutes them for the last time with “Dominus vobiscum,” and, if the Mass of the day admit of it, subjoins, without changing his position, “Ite missa est”—“Go, the dismissal is at hand.” If the occasion should not admit of the dismissal of the people, he says instead of this, but facing the altar, “Benedicamus Domino”—“Let us bless the Lord.” According to the arrangement of Pope Pius V., the rule to be guided by in this respect is that whenever the “Te Deum” is said in the Divine Office “Ite missa est” is said in the Mass; but when the “Te Deum” is not said, then “Benedicamus Domino.”

The “Ite missa est” was originally an invitation to leave the church; but it is not so now, for Mass is not finished until the end of the last Gospel. It is, therefore, like many other things, merely kept up to preserve a vestige of an ancient rite. The precise force of the “Benedicamus Domino” said at this place will be readily seen when we bear in mind that during the penitential seasons it was customary to say some part of the Divine Office after Mass; and as the people generally were present at this, they were not dismissed at the regular place, but were invited to remain and continue their devotions to the Lord. Durandus tells us that in many places it was customary to say “Benedicamus Domino” instead of “Ite missa est” after the first Mass on Christmas morning, for the reason that the office of Lauds immediately followed, at which the people always assisted. This custom is yet kept up at Lodi (Romsee, p. 330).


Touching the exact rendition of these words into English a diversity of opinion exists. According to some, the full form is, “Ite missa est Hostia”—“Go, the Host has been sent on high”; according to others, it is, “Ite missa est ecclesia”—“Go, the church, or assembly, is dismissed.” The great majority, however, interpret the words in an entirely different way, and in doing so they are supported by the strongest authority. The word “missa” here has precisely the same meaning—and is, in fact, the same word, only in a different form—as “missio,” or “dimissio,” the Latin noun for dismissal; and therefore, according to this, “Ite missa est” is nothing else but “Ite missio est”—that is, “Go, the dismissal is at hand.” The practice of using the participial form in such cases as this, instead of the real substantive, was very common with the early Fathers, and we find instances also of it in Cicero, Horace, Ovid, Virgil, and Suetonius. Tertullian and St. Cyprian both use “remissa” instead of “remissio.” The first says, for example, “Diximus de remissa peccatorum” (lib. iv ad Marcionem); the second, “Dominus baptizatur a servo, et remissam peccatorum daturas,” etc. (Hierurgia, by Dr. Rock, p. 210, note).

Having said the “Ite missa est,” the priest turns to the altar, and, with hands placed upon it, recites the prayer, “Placeat tibi, Sancta Trinitas,” to the Holy Trinity, asking that his service may be pleasing on high. After this prayer he turns and blesses the people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. In Masses for the dead there is no blessing, for reasons that we shall presently see; nor is there any dismissal, because the people are supposed to remain for the absolution of the body and its interment. The priest, on such occasions, turns to the altar and simply says, “Requiescant in pace.”

Dismissal in the Eastern Church.—The forms used in the Eastern Church vary with the different liturgies. In some places the dismissal is, “Go in peace”; in others, “Let us depart in peace”; and in a number of places, “Let us go in the peace of Christ.” In the Liturgy of St. James the expression is, “In the peace of Christ let us depart.” In most of the Oriental churches a long prayer is sometimes read, called the prayer of dismissal, after which all the people leave the church. According to the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom, this prayer is worded as follows: “The grace of thy lips, shining forth like a torch, illuminated the world, enriched the universe with the treasures of liberality, and manifested to us the height of humility; but do thou, our instructor, by thy words, Father John Chrysostom, intercede to the Word, Christ our God, that our souls may be saved.”

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com